From Creflo Dollar to Kenneth Copeland, late night comedian John Oliver delivered a brutal takedown Sunday of a group of televangelists and related churches known for preaching "the prosperity gospel" on his HBO program "Last Week Tonight" that has now gone viral.
Calling the majority of the roughly 350,000 churches nationwide a "cornerstone of American life" which do good work, Oliver quickly took dead aim at "churches that exploit people's faith for monetary gain," citing televangelist Creflo Dollar who asked his donors this year to help him purchase a $65 million luxury jet among his prime targets.
Also making the list in Oliver's 20-minute takedown was televangelist Mike Murdock who bragged in front of his congregation about purchasing two private jets with cash as well as Kenneth Copeland who calls his private jet a "preaching machine" used only for church activities but was found to be using it for trips to luxury ski resorts and gaming trips to India.
All these preachers, says Oliver, argue "that wealth is a sign of God's favor, and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea takes the form of 'seed faith' — that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest."
After highlighting a list of egregious instances of abuse by prosperity preachers, Oliver noted how difficult it was for the IRS to regulate the activities of these churches because the rules concerning religious organizations are so "purposely broad" and "a little vague." In the IRS Tax Guide for Churches & Religious Organizations, "the term church is found, but not specifically defined" and the "IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs are truly and sincerely held and the practices are not illegal."
In his critique, Oliver said he and his team corresponded with televangelist Robert Tilton's Word of Faith Worldwide Church for seven months which quickly became predatory in nature after the comedian sent a donation of $20 to the ministry in January and asked to be added to the mailing list.
"Within two weeks, he sent me a letter back thanking me for my donation, and claiming, 'I believe that God has supernaturally brought us together,'" said Oliver.
Two weeks later, Oliver said he got an envelope back from the ministry with a $1 bill in it along with a message saying, "Send it back to me with your best Prove God tithes or offering."
"That's right," said Oliver, "I had to send the $1 back with an additional recommended offering of $37, which I did. So at this point, we're just two letters in and it's like having a pen pal who's in deep with some loan sharks."
Oliver said as a result of his findings he decided to open his own church called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.
"When John Oliver found out that Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland and other pastors of their ilk have been taking advantage of the open-ended IRS definition of the word 'church' and procuring a litany of tax breaks, he founded the Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption Church, a tax-exempt organization that you certainly can't say is not a church," notes the mission statement on the website for the church. "From that day forward, he has been dedicated to collecting copious donations and all manner of divine blessings, but mainly the donations."
YOU CAN WATCH THE COMPLETE TAKEDOWN BELOW:
Editor's note: Warning, the video from HBO contains some offensive language and lewd comments.